EDITORIAL: Flu rates up so take care RGV

The frigid Arctic air blast that barreled its way down to South Texas on Tuesday morning is expected to have us all indoors for a couple days. That said, we’ll be breathing one another’s air and right now that isn’t too good.

An uptick in flu cases in the Rio Grande Valley, and most of Texas, has hospitals and physicians offices overwhelmed and health officials warning that we could be in for many more cases this week as the virus is quite adept at spreading from person to person in close quarters.

Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Chief Administrative Officer Eduardo “Eddie” Olivarez told us that county health officials starting noticing a surge in influenza and influenza-like illnesses on Dec. 22. That coincided with Christmas travelers who came visiting and brought with them more than just gifts.

“It goes with being a global society,” said Olivarez who added that 22,000 people die annually from the flu.

Hidalgo County officials do not track each influenza case but monitor flu and flu-like illnesses, such as respiratory distress, via “sentinel sites,” like larger pediatric practices and major hospitals, Olivarez said.

All are reporting high rates, but the good news is that “There’s plenty of vaccines. And I know we have plenty of anti-viral (medication),” Olivares told us on Tuesday.

Hidalgo County and its Texas Vaccination for Children partners have already given out over 60,000 vaccines, not including private pharmacies and clinics.

And although CDC officials on Friday said the effectiveness of this season’s flu vaccine is tracking at only about 30 percent, it still will boost your odds better than not getting one at all.

The catch is that it takes 10 days to kick in, so right now your best bet is to avoid infectious people; wash your hands frequently; don’t touch your eyes or nose, which could have virus particles on them from touching infected surfaces; eat healthy foods; get plenty of rest and exercise, and pray, if so inclined. If you feel sick, don’t go to work or school and seek medical help. And cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze.

Some hospitals in Dallas are reporting a quarter of their emergency room patients have flu-like symptoms; some hospitals in Austin have run out of masks for nursing staff and are asking them to bring their own to work.

During a media call on Friday, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said “We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season with much of the country experiencing widespread and intense flu activity.”

Over 151 million doses of flu vaccine have been shipped nationwide, Fitzgerald said. “So it should be readily available. Someday, of course, we hope to have a universal flu vaccine, one that attacks all influenza type viruses and provides protection that lasts for years. But until that day arrives, we will continue to improve the vaccines that we have and find ways and tools to help Americans reduce their risk of getting sick.”

Understood. So it’s up to each of us to do our part.

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